Will Supremacy Clause trump new state fracking rules?

The fallout continues over yesterday’s big takeout by Reuters on possible collusion between Cheasapeake Energy and Encana to suppress land prices in Michigan. The state is taking a hard look at the deal and as is pointed out in today’s follow up story, the land in question is now going to be tied up in the investigation.

About 80 percent of Chesapeake’s Michigan acreage is located on land it leased from the state. “I assume the state of Michigan will be fairly aggressive in investigating the alleged improprieties raised in the article, and similarly private landowners also appear to have some basis for seeking damages” if the companies conspired to keep land prices low, said Mark Hanson, an oil analyst with Morningstar in Chicago.

(Also of note via Reuters is yet another cautionary tale of land speculation and fracking)

While the Michigan story continues to unfold, the other major fracking headline comes from comments yesterday by Energy Secretary Ken Salazar that the feds need to step in and regulate the industry. Via The Times:

“There are some who are saying that it’s not something we ought to do, it should be left up to the states. That’s not good enough for me because states are at very different level, some have zero, some have decent rules.”

If the feds get involved, especially if they put in place a comprehensive set of rules, what the General Assembly just set in motion to deal with fracking will need to produce regulations and rules that jive with the federal regs or be superceded by them.
New fed regs will also likely spell out what the states can and can’t do.
That process could slow the process in North Carolina or at the very least force a rewrite of whatever rules DENR comes up with in the interim.

The land grabs behind fracking

Reuters has been killing it lately in its investigation of fracking finances, specifically the various deals done by Chesapeake, a major player in the fracking industry, and the company’s high flying CEO Aubrey McClendon.

Special Report: Chesapeake and rival plotted to suppress land prices

Exclusive: Chesapeake documents detail how CEO fuses personal, corporate interests

Special Report: The lavish and leveraged life of Aubrey McClendon

Their latest piece looks at land deals and fracking. Protecting landowners from predatory leases or behaviors on the part of land companies has become one of the chief concerns raised about fracking in North Carolina. The image portrayed in the hearings – and one I’m sure pushed by the oil and gas industry – is that there are a few bad actors in the business and they can be dealt with by adding more protections in lease requirements, mineral rights purchases, land buys and so on.

But what if there’s something bigger than just a few unscrupulous landmen? What if the two biggest players in the industry get together to suppress land prices in an entire region? What if the bad actors are playing the lead role?

In emails between Chesapeake and Encana Corp, Canada’s largest natural gas company, the rivals repeatedly discussed how to avoid bidding against each other in a public land auction in Michigan two years ago and in at least nine prospective deals with private land owners here.

In one email, dated June 16, 2010, McClendon told a Chesapeake deputy that it was time “to smoke a peace pipe” with Encana “if we are bidding each other up.” The Chesapeake vice president responded that he had contacted Encana “to discuss how they want to handle the entities we are both working to avoid us bidding each other up in the interim.” McClendon replied: “Thanks.”

That exchange – and at least a dozen other emails reviewed by Reuters – could provide evidence that the two companies violated federal and state laws by seeking to keep land prices down, antitrust lawyers said.

New version of sea-level rise bill

[Update: Here’s the link to the full bill via WRAL] (pdf).

Hot off the press. Here’s the new language in the proposed H819, which governs sea-level rise prediction in the state. The language is different in some areas from the version that kicked up a fuss in recent days. There’s an easing in restrictions for use of other-than-linear models by local governments and researchers. But the bill clearly prevents any regulations from being put in place based on models using accelerated sea-level rise.

The new language is not yet available on the NCGA site, but here’s what the bill says regarding sea-level rise and how it is to be used and measured.

(b) The General Assembly does not intend to mandate the development of sea-level rise policy or rates of sea-level rise. The Coastal Resources Commission, in conjunction with the Division of Coastal Management, shall have the authority to define sea-level rise and develop rates of sea-level rise for the State.
(c) The Coastal Resources Commission shall be the only State agency authorized to define rates of sea-level rise for regulatory purposes and, if developed, shall do so in conjunction with the Division of Coastal Management. The Commission and the Division of Coastal Management may collaborate with other State agencies, boards, commissions, other public entities, or institutions when defining sea-level rise or developing rates of sea-level rise. These rates shall be determined using statistically significant, peer-reviewed historical data generated using generally accepted scientific and statistical techniques. Historic rates of sea-level rise may be extrapolated to estimate future rates of rise but shall not include scenarios of accelerated rates of sea-level rise unless such rates are from statistically significant, peer-reviewed data and are consistent with historic trends. Rates of sea-level rise shall not be one rate for the entire coast but, rather, the Commission shall consider separately oceanfront and estuarine shorelines. For oceanfront shorelines, the Commission shall use no fewer than the four regions defined in the April 2011 report entitled “North Carolina Beach and Inlet Management Plan” published by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. The oceanfront regions are: Region 1 (Brunswick County), Region 2 (New Hanover, Pender, and Onslow Counties and a portion of Carteret County), Region 3 (a portion of Carteret County and Hyde County), and Region 4 (Dare and Currituck Counties). For estuarine shorelines, the Commission shall consider no fewer than two separate regions defined as those north of Cape Lookout and those south of Cape Lookout. In regions that may lack statistically significant, peer-reviewed historical data, rates from adjacent regions may be considered and modified using generally accepted scientific and statistical techniques to account for relevant historical geologic and hydrologic processes.
(d) Any State agency, board, commission, or institution that develops a policy addressing sea-level rise that includes a definition or rate of sea-level rise for the coastal-area counties shall use only the definitions and rates of sea-level rise developed by the Division of Coastal Management as approved by the Coastal Resources Commission.
(e) The provisions in this act shall not prohibit other State agencies, boards, commissions, other public entities or institutions, including academic institutions within The University of North Carolina or any county, municipality, or other local public body from engaging in studies and dissemination of studies of sea-level research for non-regulatory purposes. Collaboration between academic institutions including those within The University of North Carolina, the Division of Coastal Management, the Coastal Resources Commission, and other State agencies, boards, commissions, or other public entities or counties, municipalities, or other local public bodies regarding generally accepted, peer-reviewed scientific and statistically significant sea-level research is encouraged.
(f) All policies, rules, regulations or any other product of the Commission or the Division of Coastal Management related to sea-level rise shall be subject to the requirements set forth in Chapter 150B of the General Statutes.”

Perdue Names Delia Acting Secretary of DHHS

Via the Gov’s office:

Gov. Perdue Names Delia Acting Secretary of DHHS
Secretary Cansler Will Lead New Commission on Affordable Healthcare

Gov. Bev Perdue today named Al Delia as Acting Secretary of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. Delia, who currently serves as the Governor’s senior adviser for policy, will assume the new post in early February.

Secretary Lanier M. Cansler, who has served in that post since the beginning of the Perdue administration, will return to the private sector. He has agreed to chair the Governor’s new Commission on an Affordable Healthcare System for North Carolina.

“Governor Perdue is a tremendous leader,” Cansler said. “I am honored to have served on her team as she steered the state through incredibly difficult times and stabilized North Carolina’s fiscal house. We cut spending, eliminated waste and consolidated agencies — all to make state government more efficient without neglecting our core mission of serving the people.”

“I could always depend on Lanier to help find the best answer for the people of North Carolina,” Gov. Perdue said. “I will miss his calm, wise advice; the state is better for his service. He remains a friend and I will continue to rely on his counsel.”

Delia, a former associate vice chancellor at East Carolina University, has served as Gov. Perdue’s chief policy adviser since 2009.

“Al has an incredible depth of understanding of health care policy and the challenges we face,” Gov. Perdue said. “I have every confidence in his ability to lead the department at this critical time.”

The mandate of the commission on affordable health care is, over several months, to develop a vision to help make North Carolina’s healthcare system more affordable and sustainable, including proposed changes in the law, regulations and the financial reimbursement process, as well as proposals for encouraging individual North Carolinians to live healthier lifestyles.

Cansler was appointed by Perdue to head up DHHS in January 2009. Under his leadership, he renewed the commitment of the department to enhance public confidence in the agency’s ability to successfully meet the challenges and address the needs of North Carolina’s citizens. He shared the Governor’s focus of strengthening the agency with more open management, transparency and with a goal of achieving greater effectiveness and efficiency in the delivery of vital services to all North Carolinians.

Cansler, a native of Catawba County, who moved to Asheville, is a certified public accountant who was elected to four terms in the state legislature representing the 51st House District, before serving as Deputy Secretary of DHHS from 2001 to 2005.

Perdue-Faison primary looking more likely

Faison at a jobs press conference at the General Assembly last fall.

WRAL’s Laura Leslie has the breakdown of what is shaping up as a likely run for Governor by Rep. Bill Faison, who just held a press conference announcing, among other things, that he’s loaned himself a cool 500K.

Faison has been around the state on a regular basis of late pushing a jobs plan.
Whether this is primary bid or getting ready should Perdue choose not to run (her campaign says she is) 500K is nothing to sneeze at.

Ag report on transfers

Interesting report from David Smith at the Department of Agriculture at the early November meeting of the Legislature’s Environmental Review Commission. Some of the difficulties in transferring departments around is detailed.
It runs about 21 minutes. Worth a listen for state gov’t geeks. The rest of you will be bored to tears.

Link to download the audio is here


Another governor’s office, another indictment.
Via the N&O:

Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby has said that Perdue, a former lieutenant governor and state lawmaker, is not a target of the probe, but today’s indictment reached into the campaign’s inner circle.

The key phrase in this story:

The new charges, all felonies,

Perdue responds (sorta) in a statement. Via WRAL:

At the District Attorney’s request, while those matters are pending, I will not comment on the specific charges or any aspect of the investigation. I will, however, reiterate what I made clear at the beginning of the investigation, and what the investigation has confirmed: as a citizen, a candidate for public office, and an elected official, I have strived to follow the rules and laws. I am proud of my record, and I remain sharply focused on strengthening our schools, creating jobs and moving North Carolina forward.